Few people have had more of an impact on Ducks baseball than manager Kevin Baez. The 47-year-old is in his 12th season with the organization and fourth as its skipper. Under his reign, the team has won two Atlantic League championships and four half-season Liberty Division titles.
Baez also played on the Ducks' 2004 championship team, the only person in league history to win a title as both a player and a manager.
The Ducks finished the first half 40-29, six games behind Somerset in the Liberty Division. Entering Saturday, Baez's bunch was 2-6 in the second half, but only 21/2 games behind Bridgeport.
Did the All-Star break come at a good time for this team, after losing five in a row?
"I think so. We lost two heartbreakers down in Lancaster . . . We needed a break."
Are you happy with where the team is right now?
"At 2-5, no, we're not happy . . . Overall, though, we had a good first half. We won 40 games. But obviously that wasn't good enough . . . Our goal was to win the first half and that didn't happen, so that was a little disappointing."
Speed on the basepaths was something you mentioned as a key to success before the season. Has that been a positive overall?
"Absolutely. [Fehlandt] Lentini [31-for-31 stealing] has obviously been a plus. He's a leadoff guy. He gets on and causes havoc on the basepaths. Pitchers and defenses have to be quicker. [Cody] Puckett's been seeing good signs, as far as seeing a lot of fastballs. It's a trickle-down effect. We have a lot of guys that can run and a lot of guys get the green light. We want to be aggressive."
What are some improvements you'd like to see in the second half?
"Winning close games. Our record is not good in close games [13-15 in one-run games, 2-9 in extra innings, entering Saturday night. We're in them, but we have to find ways to get on top and know that we can win those close games."
Why do you think you've struggled in those situations?
"It's a combination of things. It's a move that I'm making, execution that a pitcher is making, a play that's not being made, a base that's not being stolen or a runner not being aggressive toward another base. It's about execution, from a pitcher making the right pitch or the hitters getting a timely hit with two outs in extra innings. You can't put your finger on one thing. All of us need to get better in that area."
It looks like it'll be you and Somerset battling it out again for the second-half title. What makes them so good?
"Pitching, defense and timely hitting. That's the winning formula in baseball, especially in the postseason. They find ways to win. Their pitching and defense keeps them in every game. Their hitters find ways to get a couple of hits and more importantly, a couple of runs."